1. Gates
  2. Domestic Fencing
  3. Agricultural Fencing
  4. Stables & Outdoor Buildings
  5. Garden & Landscaping
  6. Timber & Cladding
  7. Hardware

A Guide to Timber Sleepers: Everything You Need to Know

If you’re planning a garden landscaping project, or are simply looking to spruce up a section of your garden, you may have sleepers on the mind.

Sleepers are a highly versatile timber material, commonly used across gardens and outdoor spaces, as well as indoors, to construct decorative and functional features.

They have become increasingly popular across garden design in recent years, with more and more landscapers, DIYers and homeowners finding weird, wonderful and fabulous ways to use this beautiful hunk of wood in the garden.

In this guide, we’re giving you a rundown of everything you need to know about sleepers. From the different types of sleepers available and their uses to tips and tricks for looking after them, be sure to have a quick read through this sleeper info guide before your next project begins.

raised sleeper beds

What are the different types of timber sleepers?

People often ask ‘What type of garden sleeper is best?’.

And, the answer to that question actually depends on a few things.

Let’s take a look at the different types available and their core properties to answer this question better.

Softwood sleepers

softwood sleepers at Equestrian Fencing

The most cost-effective sleeper option, softwood sleepers, are a popular choice because they can be used for a wide range of outdoor applications.

Softwood timber is usually sourced from pine or spruce trees grown in the UK or Baltics. The term ‘softwood’ doesn’t actually refer to the wood being ‘softer’ to touch. Rather the term softwood is derived from the fact that the tree seed has no outer coating or cover.

However, compared to hardwood sleeper varieties, softwood sleepers are known to be much lighter, making them easier to manoeuvre, handle and work with.

How long will softwood sleepers last?

Softwood sleepers need to be treated, as they are more susceptible to rot and decay compared to hardwood varieties.

All of our softwood sleepers have already been pressure treated to Use Class 3. , to ensure that they look great and resist wood boring insects and decay.

What can softwood sleepers be used for?

retaining sleeper wall

Softwood sleepers are a great, low-cost choice if you’re looking to build your own raised sleeper beds, a retaining wall, steps and garden edging.

They can be painted, stained and further treated to enhance their natural appearance, and increase their life inground contact. If left, over time, they will change to a silvery grey colour.

Hardwood sleepers

hardwood french oak sleepers

Here at Equestrian Fencing, our hardwood sleepers are produced from French Oak. As a strong and durable timber, French Oak Sleepers are an extra tough, long-lasting sleeper choice.

Once again, the name ‘hardwood’ doesn’t come from the fact the timber feels particularly ‘hard’. Instead, it means that the oak seed has a shell coating.

The oak is light to dark brown in colour, and is densely packed, meaning that compared to softwood, these hardwood sleepers are heavier to handle.

The Oak will also turn to a natural silver, grey over time if left to do its own thing.

How long will hardwood sleepers last?

hardwood oak sleepers

Hardwood sleepers are far more resistant to decay compared to softwood, and therefore require less work and maintenance to keep them strong and looking great for years to come.

They can last up to 10-20 years without additional treatment.

However, you can apply additional treatments, paints and coatings to maintain or change the look of your sleepers.

When buying hardwood sleepers, be prepared to need a helping hand, and put extra time and care into cutting the wood and drilling pilot holes to avoid splits and cracks.

What can hardwood sleepers be used for?

As a highly versatile sleeper choice, there is so much you can do with hardwood, or French Oak sleepers.

In addition to building raised sleeper beds, retaining walls, pathways and edging, you can also use this robust material to build indoor and outdoor furniture and features, too.

Reclaimed sleepers

reclaimed sleepers

And finally, the reclaimed sleeper.

Full of character and naturally worn, these are a popular choice among those opting for the more rustic and earthy look.

Our range of Grade A and B reclaimed sleepers are derived from beautiful Tropical Hardwood, which boasts deep warm red and rusty tones.

Because they are naturally strong, dense and durable, they are not treated. They have been rescued from the railway line, so do sometimes have traces of oil contamination from the trains above.

As time passes, these sleepers will age in a stylish and sophisticated way, showing off even more detail and character.

You can expect these sleepers to look a little more rough and ready, featuring some splits, crack and perfect imperfections.

As a hardwood, these tropical sleepers are far heavier than softwood varieties. They will require 2-3 persons to manually lift.

What can reclaimed sleepers be used for?

sleeper shelving

Because of their unique traditional character, reclaimed sleepers are a popular choice for such a variety of outdoor, and indoor projects.

Outdoors, they can be used to make furniture, steps, garden edging and retaining walls. Inside, they are often used to add a spot of classic charm. Many create a fireplace mantle feature, shelving and or furniture using reclaimed sleepers.

If you want to paint your sleepers, you may be better off opting for a softwood or French Oak variety, as reclaimed sleepers show off beautiful natural tones and textures that have taken years to develop.

Do I need to treat reclaimed sleepers?

reclaimed sleepers
No, that’s the great thing about them.

They can last decades without a splash of treatment. However, you can maintain and nourish the timber by using wood preserves. Decking oil or wood oil will do the trick.

Your timber sleeper guide summary

For something extra-long-lasting that requires less maintenance, opt for hardwood sleepers, such as French Oak sleepers. If it’s a traditional rustic look you’re aiming for, it’s got to be beautiful reclaimed Tropical Hardwood sleepers. And for an all-rounder that is budget-friendly and easy to move, opt for Softwood Sleepers.

Support & maintenance by ALS Digital